Herod's Temple - The Jewish Temple in the First Century A.D. (Bible History Online)Herod's Temple
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The Jewish Temple in the First Century A.D.
It is interesting that in the Middle East certain places have remained holy
throughout the centuries, even if another religion may have taken possession of
them. Today the Moslem Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is the prominent building
where the Jewish temple once stood.
When Jesus came to Jerusalem, the Temple had just been marvelously rebuilt by
Herod the Great. The Temple area had been enlarged to a size of about
thirty-five acres. Around the Temple area were double colonnades.
The Jewish historian Josephus describes the colonnades:
"All the cloisters were double, and the pillars to them belonging were
twenty-five cubits in height, and supported -the cloisters. These pillars were of one
entire stone each of them, and that stone was white marble; and the roofs were
adorned with cedar, curiously graven. The natural magnificence, and excellent
polish, and the harmony of the joints in these cloisters, afforded a prospect
that was very remarkable; nor was it on the outside adorned with any work of the
painter or engraver. The cloisters -(of the outmost court) were in breadth
thirty cubits, while the entire compass of it was by measure six furlongs,
including the tower of Antonia; those entire courts that were exposed to the air were
laid with stones of all sorts" (Jewish War 5. 5. 2).
The eastern portico was named after King Solomon and the part to the south,
which overlooked the Valley of Kidron, was called "Royal." On the east side the
high corner was possibly the pinnacle of the temple, mentioned in the story of
the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:5).
There were eight gates
leading into the temple.
There were the two Huldah Gates
or "mole" Gates from the south, which passed underneath the Royal Porch.
To the east was the Gate of Susa
, still visible as the Golden Gate
which was walled up by the Byzantines.
In the western wall was the main gate named the Gate of Coponius
after the first procurator; it was decorated with the golden eagle as a sign
that the Temple had been placed under the protection of Rome.
Anyone was allowed to enter the outer area, which was therefore called the
Court of the Gentiles. The actual Temple was enclosed by a balustrade, and at the
entrances to it were warning notices, one of them is now in a museum in
Istanbul. It says that foreigners have freedom of access provided they do not go
beyond the balustrade which went all around the central edifice and which no
uncircumcised could cross without incurring the death penalty.
Fourteen steps led through the Beautiful Gate
to the Court of the women where the poor boxes were, into one of which the
poor widow cast her two mites (Luke 21:1-4).
Another fifteen steps led up to the famous Gate of Nicanor
, to which Mary had brought the child at the time of his presentation; this
led through the Court of the Men to that of the priests, which had in its center
the altar for the burnt offerings and to the left of it a large basin called
the Brazen Sea resting upon twelve bulls cast in bronze.
Further steps led up to the actual temple, a comparatively small building. A
priceless curtain, embroidered with a map of the known world, concealed from
view what lay beyond, and none except the priest on duty was allowed to go
It contained the golden altar at which incense was offered and next to it the
seven-branched candelabrum and the table with the twelve loaves of shewbread,
which were replaced by fresh ones every sabbath. Beyond it, behind another large
curtain, lay the Holy of Holies, which none except the high priest was allowed
to enter, and he only on the Day of Atonement. A stone designated the place
where once the Ark of the Covenant had stood.
Jesus came to the Temple at a very young age and in Solomon's Porch the boy
argued with the rabbis, astonishing them with his questions and with his answers.
He remained behind when his parents left, and when his worried mother at last
found him he said to her enigmatically: "'Did you not know that I must be in my
Father's house?"' (Luke 2:49).
It is one of the most original sayings of Jesus, in which he speaks of God for
the first time as "avi" (My Father) which was an expression reserved for the
Son of God.
Today the Western Wall, the so-called Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the
ancient walls of Herod's Temple; one can still see the pilaster and the
beginning of Robinson?s Arch, which was part of a large viaduct leading to the upper city.
Excavations in 1967, led by the well-known archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, revealed the
cornerstone. Adjacent to it on the southern side remain traces of the road from
which the pilgrims entered the gates.
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